Winter 2019 Newsletter – Gilberto Agosto
Gilberto Agosto, Director of Youth Services
In an interesting twist of fate, Gilberto (Gil) Agosto, Director of Union Settlement’s Youth Services Program, grew up in the very same housing complex that now headquarters our Youth Services program — and where Gil’s office is located today!
“When I grew up in these public housing units, they were brand new and sparkling clean,” recalls Gil. “Back then, doors were open and young people could freely travel from one housing complex to another.”
Today, things are different. “Nowadays, the housing complexes have become more territorial, and there is a danger to our kids of traveling across the street to another housing complex due to the possibility of violent reprisal for encroaching on someone else’s turf. This is just one of the circumstances our young people face on a daily basis.”
Union Settlement’s Youth Services is a safe space for our kids. Our program welcomes all young people from the neighborhood and offers them opportunities they might not find at home or in school. Here, we provide a safe outlet for them to explore the arts, technology, career building, higher education and social skills. “Sometimes these young men and women just simply aren’t aware of the opportunities that are out there for them,” Gil explains.
We offer such opportunities to approximately 3,000 youth each year. This includes afterschool as well as summer programs for elementary, middle and high school students, and those who are not in school.
Some of these young people understandably bring a lot of their stress, fear, and at times trauma, to us. Since taking on the role of Director of Youth Services 18 months ago, Gil has implemented what he calls “a change in mindset.”
“I don’t believe that young men and women should be punished. They should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves for any transgressions. I’ve worked with schools where suspensions were a way of life — and I just don’t believe that method is effective.”
“What I’ve done at Union Settlement is work with my team to look at innovative ways to implement consequential learning. Our first course of action should not be removal from the program. A young person might be removed from the specific activity, given a chance to calm down, given a chance to bring that energy down, and then have a conversation about what took place. Nine times out of ten, the core issue is one of a million things other than what you think it is.”
“I always tell my team, ‘we are not raising children; we are raising adults. These kids are adults in training.’ So, what kind of adult do you want to train? Do you want to train an adult who will quickly resort to quitting or punishment when dealing with transgressions? Or do you want them to take a step back and evaluate, and find ways to solve the problem so they can continue contributing to society?”
Any young person in the East Harlem community who is looking for a place — free of charge — to begin that training, regardless of the environment they’re growing up in, will find a place of hope with Gil and Union Settlement’s Youth Services program.